Hiring private thugs in Afghanistan and hoping for the best

It’s so hard to see why the Western-led war in Afghanistan is failing miserably:

An Afghan-owned security company accused of operating an illicit protection racket received “a slap on the wrist” from the Defense Department despite ample evidence of wrongdoing, according to a senior House Democrat critical of the military’s efforts to combat corruption in Afghanistan.

The complaint from Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., detailed in a Sept. 13 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, sets the stage for a contentious congressional hearing scheduled for Thursday on how aggressively the Pentagon is holding contractors working in war zones accountable for fraud and bribery.

In the letter, Tierney summarizes the findings of “Warlord, Inc.,” an investigation he led last year which concluded that Ahmad and Rashid Popal, the owners of the Watan Group, and Haji Ruhullah, a former assistant manager for the company, bribed local Afghan officials and used heavy weapons prohibited by the $2.16 billion Army transportation contract they were working under. They all denied funneling money to the Taliban, Tierney said, but evidence gathered by his staff “raised doubts about those claims.”

Based on the findings of Warlord Inc., Army officials in December proposed barring Watan’s security arm, Watan Risk Management, and Ruhullah from doing business with the U.S. government. Armed with American attorneys, the Popals and Ruhullah separately challenged the actions. Ruhullah won. The Army cited his status as a subordinate at Watan and said his inability to speak English meant he could not understand the terms of the contract or the investigators from Tierney’s staff who interviewed him.

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